For the past few weeks Canada has been in the tentacles of a standoff by some indigenous groups blockading trains tracks and roads. The feckless Prime Minister has been out of the country and upon his return did not resolve the problems. The question is why not?The protagonists in this latest feud may not be a majority, but a small minority who call themselves the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people of northern B.C. who in a 1997 court case were recognized to have authority and the exclusive right of the Wet'suwet'en peoples to the land but did not specify the boundaries which includes jurisdiction over 58,000 square kilometres of land and water in northwest British Columbia. Coastal GasLink, the company building the pipeline, did sign agreements with representatives from 20 First Nations, including Wet'suwet'en duly elected band councils, who so far have had no say in the conflict. The project was subsequently approved by the provincial government. Yet the blockades in support of the Hereditary Chiefs have escalated and affected the whole country. Many of the supporters are environmentalists, who in my opinion have absolutely nothing to do with the ‘reconciliation’ agenda of the liberal government. The opposition to the pipeline is being used by several groups, often funded by foreign organizations, to stop developments of fossil fuel projects.
There is no doubt that the conflict between Canada and First Nations has been going on for years. Several governments have tried to bridge the gap of poverty between the indigenous people and the rest of the country. Billions of dollars have been spent; however it seems that political correctness has always been in the way of a favorable solution. Governments have ignored or deliberately misunderstood indigenous sovereignty for political gain. The Trudeau government is conveniently and for political expediency using the conflict to expand its environmental agenda.
Weeks of silence and inaction by the Trudeau government has seriously damaged the economy of Canada. The blockades have affected transportation of goods and people. Canadian economic growth has been hurt, and will take months to recover. Our trade credibility is in jeopardy because our partners cannot deliver or receive goods. However, in a desperate move to appease the Hereditary Chiefs and their supporters, a deal was struck but with no details made public. So far the only part that we know is that the government entertained an arrangement that will also honour the protocols of the Wet’suwet’en people and clans, but the Hereditary Chiefs are still opposed to the pipeline.
The negotiations were led by Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett. Why not the Hon. Wilson-Raybould? Minister Bennett has been in politics since 1997, as the face of “reconciliation”, she is a person who has been seen wearing indigenous jewelry and garments – no acculturalization here! For the past four years she has done nothing to make real progress in the relationship between First Nations and the rest of Canada. Now the country is faced with a real economic and constitutional conundrum. Trudeau’s reconciliation agenda coupled with an environmental ideology, was always going to create anarchy. The zealots will use the inability of his government to make decisions to hold the country to ransom. The yet to be disclosed agreement will not solve the current or future conflicts. Any resolution that does not address the right of way on indigenous lands as well as the need for economic purposes is bound to result in a repeat of the current nasty dispute. A government agreement that gives away everything without getting assurances for the free movement of people and goods will result into more protests and more blockades, not just against the oil industry but against anything that zealots will decide to oppose.
It is time for Canada to review its relationship with the First Nations including if need be a complete reform or abolition of the Indian Act. The current Act stands in the way of a resolution due to its complexity and refusal to recognize that despite the difference in culture there is only one country with different people. These differences are at the root of the multi-cultural nation that is Canada, but there should always be one and only one rule of law. Zealots cannot be allowed to hold the country to ransom.